Like a registered nurse (RN), a nurse practitioner (NP) performs many duties that involve examination and treatment of a patient. However, in most states, the NP is licensed to prescribe medications and may perform many of the same tasks as a physician. This would include diagnosing patient conditions without the supervision of an attending physician. NPs also may act as primary-care providers, a role that is denied to the RN.

Prerequisites for Becoming an NP

To become an NP, the individual must first become an RN. Once licensed as an RN. While a student can become an RN through a hospital diploma and an associate’s degree, the fast track to the NP is through the BSN, or bachelor’s degree in nursing. The reason behind this logic is that the NP must acquire a master’s degree, and the quickest route to that degree is the completion of a BSN and licensure as an RN. Many NP programs might require two years of work experience before applications are approved.

The training to become an NP typically last about two years and leads to a minimum of a master’s degree. Once the required education and training is complete, the NP candidate must pass a national exam to be licensed.

How to become an NP

Every state will maintain different requirements for practice as an NP. In New York, for instance, anyone who uses the title, “Nurse Practitioner,” must meet stringent licensure and educational standards. Plus, a New York nurse practitioner is certified to practice specifically in one specialty area unless that NP submits separate applications and fees for each specialty and demonstrates meeting requirements for each specialty application. New York also lists a number of qualifying educational institutions that it will approve for that state. This is why it is important for RNs to check state regulations before applying to an NP educational program, as the wrong program could lead to a true waste of time, money and talent.

Careers Available After Becoming an NP

The NP can specialize in family, pediatric, adult, geriatric, women’s health, neonatal care, acute care, occupational health and more. Some NPs serve as certified nurse midwives or certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs). Outside hospital-based practices such as neonatal and acute care, the NP can practice in outpatient settings or make visits to homes to see patients.

The NP can earn an average annual income of $86,464 upwards, depending upon work environment, location and experience. This jump in salary from RN (average $52,000 per year) to NP makes the further education worthwhile, especially to nurses who want to shoulder more responsibility. With increasing health care costs across the board, many medical institutions are hiring NPs instead of doctors, because the NP is less costly while being just as effective. While this financial acumen may seem demeaning, the real reason many people are seeking NPs for health care is that the NP, unlike many doctors, seek to work with the person as a whole, rather than treat the injury or illness as a sole factor in the barrier to good health.